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Women of The World: When Women Work Together, Things Happen!

As women, our race, ethnicity and the choices we make in life may differentiate us but our experiences bring us to a place, where we converge and connect universally. We meet to share our stories and through our conversations we heal because talking about the issues that affect us, naked and unashamed with other women, helps to lighten the burden. A lesson I learnt from reading Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation At War, by Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Laureate.

It is that time of the year, when we celebrate women globally and bring attention to issues that still affect us to the national and global agenda. What better platform to achieve this goal than the Southbank Centre’s premier festival, which has women at the core of its existence and purpose, Women of the World (WOW). Launched in 2011, over 8,000 people attend WOW’s inaugural festival in more than 100 events. It returns in 2012, to recognise and celebrate women on both sides of the Atlantic. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, 8 March, the festival consists of live music, talks, debates, theatre, film and comedy, showcasing the diverse voices women contribute to society. For the first time, WOW will also launch in the USA.

Jude Kelly, OBE and artistic director of Southbank Centre said: “Throughout history, many women’s achievements have gone unnoticed or unsung. I created WOW – Women of the World Festival to celebrate the formidable power of women to make change happen, to remind us of our history, to draw attention to injustice, to enjoy each other’s company and to encourage men to add their support as we set out to achieve a fairer world. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to WOW in 2011 and am excited to build on this success with another great festival at Southbank Centre in 2012 and our first international WOW in Baltimore.”

This year’s line-up of speakers and debates is different to what 2011 had to offer and I’m particularly pleased to see a cross representation of voices and views, which includes Hannah Pool, Eritrean-British author and journalist, Pool said: “I’m thrilled to have been part of the curating team for this year’s Women of the World festival. WOW is about celebrating women in all walks of life. It’s about acknowledging how far we have come, but also stopping for a moment to look at what we still need to do in terms of women’s rights and equality. All this is done through a wide and varied artistic programme including music, film, theatre talks and debates. We’ve got more than 90 events across the weekend, everything from free speed mentoring, talks on global feminism, podcasts from Ghana. Films on the Arab spring, Sandi Toksvig’s mirth control, Emilie Sande performing live. But the best bit, as ever with these things, is always the crowd it draws, thousands of people come to engage, participate and celebrate women. Just Wonderful!”

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, a Ghanaian, who describes herself as a fab feminist and blogs at Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Woman, will also be sharing her experiences at the festival. On her inclusion at WOW 2012, Sekyiamah said: “I was incredibly flattered to be invited to be a speaker at WOW. Especially delighted that organisers were flexible and worked to make sure that my voice could be included…I will be at WOW via a podcast and talk about women who are in Tech.” Other speakers include scientist, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, India’s first female police officer and social activist, Dr Kiran Bedi and British entrepreneur and explorer, Alex Foley, who was the first female fire-arms expert at Sotheby’s. The festival’s panel discussions will cover the challenges of global feminism, how world finance affects women’s lives, women and the Arab Spring, the politics of hair and sessions on how to ask for a pay rise. The festival will also include the announcement of the long list for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Through WOW, the Southbank Centre aims to contribute to the empowerment of women and girls on a year-round basis. As part of WOW, the Southbank Centre is working with London schools, including Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, to programme a conference for an invited group of school girls and their mothers to discuss what makes a great 21st century education for girls. Southbank Centre will build on the success of the 2011 speed-mentoring sessions by offering more tailored opportunities across a breadth of subjects and industries, as part of an ongoing commitment to developing and promoting in-depth mentoring schemes for women.

I don’t think you have to be a feminist or womanist to enjoy some of the debates/panel discussions, talks among other events on offer this year. If you have an inquisitive mind like me, and eager to learn more about the issues that affect women, as well as celebrate high achievers, I recommend that you go along, get informed and have some fun while doing so. Personally, I am not a feminist but gender is one of my journalism focus areas and every opportunity to learn more is always a pleasure. I have read the festival programme, below are some events I would definitely recommend. You will also find links to each day’s full programme. So get a move on, let’s roll and make things happen!!


  • ADVENTURES FROM THE BEDROOMS OF AFRICAN WOMEN: In this short film from Ghana, writer and feminist Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah reads from her blog ‘Adventures from the bedrooms of African women’. This is followed by a panel discussion on the sexualisation of black women in popular culture and chaired by journalist and author Hannah Pool.
  • REPORTING BACK FROM THE ARAB SPRING: WHAT’S NEXT FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS? Women in the Arab world have been part of the political movement for centuries and in the recent uprisings they took to the streets with everyone else. Our panel including Egyptian pro-democracy blogger and activist Salma Said, tells us their stories of revolution and debates what the future holds for women’s rights in the Arab world.
  • SPEED MENTORING: Speed mentoring sessions happening across the festival. Share your challenge with high-level experts across all fields from theatre directors to geoscientists during 15-minute mentoring sessions and meet other women who face the same challenges.
  • TOO POOR FOR POWER: GIVING WOMEN POWER IN THE AGE OF AUSTERITY: Consumer power, political power, life chances, independence… do they all really boil down to money? Can we empower women without a price tag? This panel looks at the impact of hard times on UK women’s ability to exercise control over their own lives and their wider world.
  • GLOBAL FEMINISM: Women and men are fighting for gender equality all over the world, but all too often non-western feminists are left out of the dialogue. What mistakes does western feminism make in a global context, and what can it learn from its non-western sisters? Chair of gender studies at SOAS, Dr Nadje Al-Ali, blogger Ms Afropolitan and writer and commentator Nesrine Malik discuss. This session is chaired by author and journalist Hannah Pool.
  • BODY POLITICS: WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? PART 1 – SIZE & AGE: The first of this two-part series looks at women’s relationships to their bodies, wading through the media mania to discuss size and age. Panellists include Observer columnist Eva Wiseman and author Jill Shaw Ruddock.
  • BODY POLITICS: WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? PART 2 – HAIR & Skin: The second of this series looks at women’s relationships to their bodies, wading through the media mania to discuss the politics of hair and skin. Author and journalist Hannah Pool chairs this panel including Dr Shirley Tate, author of Black Beauty: Aesthetics, Stylization, Politics, and Sali Hughes, writer, broadcaster, and the Guardian’s chief beauty columnist.
  • BATTERING DOWN THE DOOR: THE TRUTH ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE – GLOBAL: Across the world, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. In the UK domestic violence currently affects one in four women and one in six men. Baroness Scotland, founder of the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, talks about the realities of domestic violence with leading campaigners.


WOW festival, friday’s programme

WOW festival, saturday’s programme

WOW festival, sunday’s programme


Image of Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah by Nyani Quarmyne

For further information, go to: Women of the World




6 Responses to “Women of The World: When Women Work Together, Things Happen!”

  1. Ronke Lawal says:

    Such a great initiative! Thanks for sharing Belinda!

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Ronke for taking the time to read. It is a great initiatve for sure and this year’s event looks very interesting. X

  3. […] Also visit the WOW festival blog to read my interview with Hannah Pool, as well as Belinda Otas’s piece on ‘Women of the World’ […]

  4. […] more info and the event programme visit the WOW website. I also recommend visiting Afri-Love and Belinda Otas for top picks that will help you plan your event […]

  5. Gisella-B says:

    Great post Belinda! I was thrilled to be on one of yesterday’s panels (body politics: size & age). It got pretty heated at one point..but fascinating conversation overall. Kudos to WOW for putting on such a compelling programme..and special kudos to co-curator Hannah Poole for diversifying the cultural dynamic. x

  6. Belinda Otas says:

    That’s great Jan, well done!! I hope you enjoyed it. Anything to do with hair, body, size and all that will always create an interesting debate. I am sure you all did great! Hannah has done a good job this year. Well done to her. Thanks for reading and commenting too. Have a good one. Xx

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